Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

A few years ago, I saw Ramit Sethi on The Daily Show promoting his book I Will Teach You To Be Rich. It sounded very helpful and like a book I should probably read. I filed it away on my Amazon Wishlist and forgot about it for a while. Since I recently got a job with actual income, I decided to buy the book and see what it was all about.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit SethiI’ll start by saying that this book blew me away. Since I’m busy studying medicine, I had not put much effort into learning about finance. I am still pretty young (ahem!), and I thought the topic was too complicated and something I could put off worrying about until later. In essence, Sethi wrote this book for people like me. It’s meant for people in their 20’s, and he points out a number of ways that you’re an idiot if you put off starting to save until it’s too late. While I assumed that “starting early helps,” I had no idea how much. He demonstrates with a nice chart that a person who invests $100/month for only 10 years starting at age 25 will have a lot more money at retirement than a person who invests $100/month for 30 years starting at age 35. That’s right. You have to save for 3 times as long if you delay starting for 10 years, and you still end up with less money!

The book is broken down into a 6-week program. You’re given tasks to complete each week. Tasks cover budgeting; tackling credit card debt and improving your credit history; setting up a no-fee, high-interest savings account; opening a 401(k) and an IRA; and learning to invest appropriately.

Besides just giving plain, old “good advice,” there are a lot of reasons that this book succeeds. First, he addresses perfection. Most people know they should do this stuff but don’t want to get started because the topic is overwhelming and they’re afraid they’ll do something wrong. They say, “I don’t want to make a mistake. I’ll just worry about it later.” Sethi advocates the 85% approach, wherein doing something 85% right is still a lot better than doing nothing, which equates to 0%. When addressing your budget, he doesn’t advocate being an all-around cheap penny-pincher. He proposes “conscious spending.” After socking away an appropriate percentage of your paycheck to savings and paying your bills, he tells you to consciously spend what’s left on things you love and avoid spending on things you don’t. He provides an example of a friend who spends $21,000/year on going out to bars. Granted this friend has a 6-figure salary, but Sethi makes his point. As long as you’re putting enough into long-term and short-term savings, it doesn’t really matter what you spend the rest on. He also breaks down overwhelming topics into digestible chunks and gives you timed, task-oriented directions. Importantly, he tackles a lot of common misconceptions around finances. For example, investing is not about picking stocks! He demonstrates thorough evidence that, aside from a very elite few, no person is able to consistently predict the stock market. Instead of losing thousands of dollars per year on fees to investment companies, he shows you how to create a portfolio that will return 8% on your investments long-term. This has been the average return for the last 80 years on the stock market, and you won’t do any better unless your name is Warren Buffett.

The best part about Sethi’s program is that he advocates for minimal effort. The last thing I wanted to read was a book telling me how I need to spend hours a week pouring over my finances, checking stocks, and doing financial research. In fact, it’s just the opposite. He teaches you how to make things happen automatically, so that after working through his 6 week schedule, everything is done. You’re making money without even thinking about it, doing things that you actually like, such as being with friends and family. He teaches you how to automatically direct money from every paycheck into savings so that you don’t even miss it. He teaches you how to automate investing so that you only have to think about your investments for about an hour per year (if that!).

I can’t speak highly enough of this book, and I can’t wait to put the rest of it into action. I need actual income for parts of it :). I know I’m being weird, but I want to convince almost everyone I know to read it: Sadie, my sister, my cousins, my friends. While it’s geared towards young people, I think middle-aged people could get a lot of benefit from reading this book too, especially on understanding investing and changing investments as you get closer to retirement. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Go out and buy a copy right now. Once you’re financially secure, you can start making decisions about life and your career based on what is in your best interest, not what will make you the most money to pay the bills. Define what “rich” means to you and make it happen!

5/5

January Books Read

In honor of my finishing a personal record 6 books in the month of January and in homage to Sadie-Jean:

January Books Read

Total Books Read: 6

Favorite Book: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Least Favorite Book: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Hunger Games was a close second. Also, I feel like I should point out that two of the books that I “read” were audio books. I downloaded them (for free!) from Librivox and listened to them while I drove. Sadie says this still counts, but I’m tempted to be less generous about it. Still, hooray for reading!

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now, and I just never made time. It’s partly because I always imagined it was going to be too much sci-fi for me. I’m not sure why I tend to shy away from sci-fi books because I usually end up liking them just as much as (if not more than) any other genre. I’ll just go ahead and apologize for that now. This book was simply excellent.

In some ways, “Ender” Wiggin is your typical 5 year old in the future. In many ways, he’s not. Due to the overpopulation of Earth, families are limited to two children except when given explicit governmental permission to have a “Third.” They give permission when a lineage shows particular promise for creating adept military commanders, as they did with the Wiggin family. You see, Earth has had two previous wars with some extra-terrestrials called “Buggers,” who are cunning fighters. Humans only survived the last war because a military genius named Mazer Rackham was able to fend off a massive Bugger attack. The military is trying desperately to discover and train potential leaders for their intergalactic fleet. As Ender embarks on his journey, the threat of a Bugger attack is looming closer than ever. What will become of the fate of mankind?

A bit dramatic? Perhaps, but it works. Watching the military manipulate and challenge children in this age group to see if they “have what it takes to lead” is chilling. It’s remarkable to see the bonds that form between these kids and the intelligence that develops as a result of that pressure. This book gives some keen insight into the military complex and what happens to the mind under stress. More importantly though, it realistically captures how a kid would handle these situations. You empathize with Ender and his friends. You celebrate their victories and wish against their defeats. All-in-all, it’s a really amazing story. If you’ve never read it, check it out!

5/5

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions is the story of Dwayne Hoover, a car dealer obsessed with the writings of a science fiction author named Kilgore Trout. Hoover has requested that Trout be invited to speak at his town’s art festival. As Trout travels to the city, Hoover undergoes some sort of mental breakdown.

The story is definitely odd, and it’s sprinkled with lots of Vonnegut’s artwork. Unfortunately, the story kind of lost me. Not that I couldn’t figure out what was going on in the plot, but rather that I wasn’t entirely sure of its point. It was definitely funny at times and insightful once or twice, but mainly it just left me wondering if I was missing something. Vonnegut has done that to me before, but usually there’s some other nugget of humor or insight that I can take out of his work. This one was a little tougher to grasp.

So, for Vonnegut, not his best work. For a book in general, it’s not bad, especially if you like humor and goofy illustrations. It’s definitely a quick read. I think I finished in 3 days. If you haven’t checked out some of his other stuff that I’ve reviewed, you may want to start there. According to his Wikipedia entry, in his book Palm Sunday he grades his performance on each of his novels. He gave Breakfast of Champions a “C”. I really enjoyed the work that he graded highly, so maybe I should listen to his reviews and pick up God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Mother Night the next time I’m in a Vonnegut mood.

2.5/5

Side note: A reader pointed out that the movie 2081, based on Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron, was released on DVD this month. Thanks!

The Lost Symbol

I spent the first week of my holiday break reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. This novel follows a similar format to Brown’s previous Robert Langdon stories, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. I enjoyed both of those stories a lot, which made reading this latest installment a no-brainer. In fact, I like Brown’s writing style quite a bit. I think it’s the short chapters that keep me saying, “I’ve got time for one more.” I also like that they tend to have a lot of puzzles, mystery, and suspense. Plus, I end up learning a lot about history by the end of the story.

As for this particular novel, it follows Robert Langdon as he is swept up in a tale surrounding the Ancient Mysteries when his close friend and leader of the Freemasons is captured by a madman. The story takes place almost entirely in Washington D.C., which was also interesting. As Sadie pointed out in her review, we traveled to D.C. a few years ago, so it was fun to picture some of the scenes.

So how does this novel compare with Brown’s other novels? I thought it was pretty good. I still think The Da Vinci Code is my favorite, but maybe that’s because it was also the first Dan Brown I’d ever read. I think I liked Angels & Demons a little bit more than The Lost Symbol, simply because I found the background of the Catholic Church a little bit more interesting than the Freemasons. I think I liked it as much as Digital Fortress and more than Deception Point. So, how’s that for a breakdown? My only real complaint about The Lost Symbol is that I guessed a few of the plot twists too early. It’s probably just because I’ve read too many of Brown’s stories before, though. Don’t forget to go vote for your favorite Brown novel over at Sadie’s blog if you haven’t already.

Overall, it’s not the best Langdon book, but definitely a must-read for any fans of Brown’s work. If you’ve never read a Langdon book before, you may be better off starting with The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons. And if there is anyone out there who has only seen the movies and not read the books, please do yourself a favor and read the books. You won’t be disappointed!

4/5

A Man Without A Country Review

A Man Without A Country is something of a memoir by Kurt Vonnegut. It contains a number of passages he has written in recent years. Some of them are excerpts of articles he wrote as Senior Editor for In These Times, a political magazine out of Chicago. The passages are often short, containing little pearls of wisdom Vonnegut picked up throughout life. He also offers his opinion on then-President of the United States George W. Bush and his administration.

A Man Without A Country by Kurt VonnegutThe passages are summarized by the book’s title. Vonnegut feels like he is lost in the modern world and is dumbfounded that it can be running the way it is. Through it all, he doesn’t come across as “the crotchety old man who doesn’t want anything to change” but rather as “the intelligent old man who thinks his people are making some poor life decisions.” Despite my love for technology, he has a particularly interesting passage on his disdain for it and his fear that it’s removing human interaction from our daily lives. There is an important sense of urgency and hope in his writing that is directed toward my generation, which I found particularly insightful:

I apologize to all of you who are the same age as my grandchildren. And many of you reading this are the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government. Yes, this planet is in a terrible mess. But it has always been a mess. There have never been any “Good Old Days,” there have just been days. And as I say to my grandchildren, “Don’t look at me. I just got here.” (p. 130-131)

I think it’s important for the members of my generation to remember that we can change the world. Maybe it’s not a great idea to demonize the Baby Boomers, but it’s important to acknowledge and understand the mistakes of yesterday and today so that they can be remedied tomorrow. Change and adaptation are how our culture evolves, and just because the ideals of people currently in power may prevent us from changing the world today doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be planning on changing the world tomorrow.

As you can see, this book is one that will get you thinking. It hits near the top of my favorites of all-time, but it loses a few points for some (perhaps well-founded) cheap jokes at the expense of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with critiquing or bashing the Bush administration, but if you’re going to make a joke, it should probably have a broader point. Some of Vonnegut’s didn’t. Still, it definitely one you shouldn’t skip. Go grab a copy today!

4.5/5

Slaughterhouse-Five Review

I love Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t know how it could have taken me this long to realize it. If you’ve never read any of his books, you should take the time to make your next book one of his. I finished this one quite some time ago, but I realized I never wrote a review. Slaughterhouse-Five, subtitled The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death is described as “the ultimate anti-war novel.” Vonnegut was a soldier in the U.S. Army and was captured in the line of duty. He was held captive in the German city of Dresden in a slaughterhouse (#5). The Allies subsequently firebombed Dresden, and Vonnegut and the other soldiers in Slaughterhouse Five were some of the few survivors in the city. He and his fellow Ally soldiers were then forced to help clean up the bodies and rubble across the city.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutIn the first chapter of this book, Vonnegut describes a little bit about his life after the war and why it took him so long to write about such a horrific experience. Using true artistic style, in the rest of the book he chose to tell the tale of a fictional character, Billy Pilgrim, a soldier whose story overlaps with that of Vonnegut’s own. In fact, Vonnegut even makes a few brief appearances in the book.

Anyone looking for a book about war and battles, however, will be sorely disappointed. Most of this book is about the life of Billy Pilgrim both before and after the war. The twist is that Billy has become “unstuck in time.” That means that at random points in the story, Billy time-travels to various points in his own life. He has seen his own birth and death many times over. If that’s not strange enough for you, at one point in his life Billy is captured by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore and placed in a “zoo” of exotic species. He’s returned to Earth after some time, but it’s as though he never left. Fortunately, there’s a lot to be learned from the Tralfamadorians, and those scenes are actually some of my favorites. There’s a particular passage that sticks out in my mind:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.” [Wikiquote]

While I’m not sure I fully caught on to the prolific “anti-war” theme, I can assure you that this book spoke volumes to me about life in general. It’s one of those books with plenty of quotable passages like the one above that make you stop and think. If you’ve never read it, I suggest you wander over to Amazon and grab a copy. It comes highly recommended.

4.5/5

Harrison Bergeron Review

The dystopian short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut is an interesting tale of life in the year 2081, when all humans have been made “equal.” They’re equal because anyone who is exceptional is given government-issued handicap devices: masks for the beautiful, constant weight for the strong, and mind-numbing noise for the intelligent.

The premise in this story is an interesting one. It makes you think about some arguments for “equality.” The premise is reminiscent of Atlas Shrugged for me, although the dystopia was not as fully developed. The story is being made into a (short) film called 2081, which is how I first heard about it. I am a big fan of Vonnegut, so it’s always nice to get to read some of his work. I’m hoping that the film can expand the dystopia and make it more tangible for non-readers. Keep an eye out for it in the future, and read the story today. See the first link for the full text.

4/5

The Road

I just finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I credit Sadie for recommending this really great book. Or maybe I should just credit Oprah ( 😛 ). The Road tells the story of an unnamed man and his son who are traveling across a post-apocalyptic America. The entire world appears to be covered in a layer of ash that also blocks out nearly all sunlight. The boy and his father are two of a handful of survivors roaming the planet and scavenging to survive. The Road is a story of survival. It’s a story of a father who has lost everything and everyone he knows, save his son. The world has to be one of the scariest settings imaginable: hardly any light in the daytime, pitch black at night, bitter cold, almost zero visibility, no food or supplies, and dangerous scavengers around nearly every bend. The story contains some mind-bending, horrific imagery that has to be seen (read) to be understood.

The writing itself is also very different. It definitely took some getting used to. While it doesn’t completely lack punctuation, quotation marks, commas, and apostrophes are left out (and maybe more). While some of the descriptions are eloquent, the dialog between the father and son remains fairly simple. I think the phrase “Okay.” must have been used at least 200 times in the book, and the two saying “Okay” to each other was a common resolution to any discussion. While I found this strange at first, as the story progressed this phrase seemed to demonstrate the strong bond between the characters.

The story was horrifying, endearing, and truly moving. Despite the bizarre setting, every aspect of the story was fully believable, which makes things all the more horrific. The different writing style took me a little while to get used to, but once I did, I flew through the book. I highly recommend you check this out if you haven’t already. It is truly one of the most unique stories I have ever read!

4.5/5

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, dont you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

Review: Free Culture

I finally finished reading Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig a few weeks ago. With my impending exams, I decided I should wait to write a review. All-in-all this was probably one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. Normally I am not a fan of non-fiction, but this book tackled a subject that I was very interested in: freedom.

Lessig is a law professor from Stanford who has dedicated a large chunk of his career to copyright law. His interest in constitutional law led him to this statement:

The Congress shall have Power [. . .] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. –US Constitution (via Wikipedia)

The key phrase in that statement, for Lessig and many others, is the term “limited Times”. One of the most interesting parts of the book was the subject of public domain. I found it interesting mainly because before reading this book, I had almost no idea such a thing existed. See, I’m not very old (24), and I have very little experience with copyright. What I learned from Lessig in this book is that there’s a thing called a public domain. Any books (or other works) whose “copy right” has expired enters this domain. In the public domain, no one owns the rights to the book. Anyone is free to reproduce it, republish it, modify it, and make any other number of changes to it, and needs no one’s permission. Now, I had been vaguely familiar with the concept of public domain from things like Project Gutenberg, but I mainly thought that this was only for really old books (say over 100 years old). What I did not understand is that up until the beginning of the 1900’s, works entered the public domain fairly quickly after they were published. Before 1909, any published work could receive a copyright in the US if you filed the correct paperwork with the US Copyright Office. The term for the copyright was 14 years. After 14 years, the copyright was renewable for one additional 14 year term at the copyright owner’s discretion. Thus, after a maximum of 28 years, any published works entered the public domain. This short term of copyright allowed many adaptations of older works, for example Walt Disney was quickly able to make a film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice in Wonderland without securing any sort of permission from Carroll or his estate. The work had moved to the public domain. In fact, Disney and his company profited heavily from the adaptation of other works, including the creation of a well-known mouse named Mickey, who began as Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Willie was actually a parody of a comedic film by Buster Keaton. Disney made this parody and adapted it, making it a hit by being the first cartoon to have sound. How different would the world be today without Mickey Mouse? Yet if Disney had not incorporated the idea of adding sound to his cartoon (films had already begun using sound), Mickey’s long-lasting popularity may not have stuck around.

Ever since 1909, however, the US government has been incrementally increasing the term of copyrights. Where they started out at a maximum of 28 years, they are now up to 95 or 120 years or 70 years after the author’s death. Where before only certain works were even copyrightable and a specific request had to be made in order to obtain a copyright, now virtually anything imaginable can be copyrighted, and the copyright is inherent as soon as pen touches paper (no formal request needed). This change has caused an inordinate amount of work to be held out of the public domain, often with no good reason.

The great thing about this book is Lessig’s approach to presenting the problems and his arguments. He doesn’t resort to extreme ideas to counteract current copyright policy. He never argues to abolish copyright and make creativity a free-for-all. He believes that creators deserve and need the right to protect their work. He simply wants, as many want: a more prudent copyright system. One that balances the power of creators with that of the public good from works entering into the public domain. One that will promote a tradition of creativity that our country was founded on. He diffuses many counter-arguments by simply addressing the problem from the other side of the table. It makes his arguments rock solid. Plus, he uses a number of examples throughout the book to demonstrate how and why the law was different in the past and how it compares to today. Unfortunately, a problem like the one with copyright law does not garner people’s attention until they see the effects of it. Those who are not actively attempting to create something new from something old do not understand the importance of what a barrier this places on creativity and why that’s such a bad thing. Therefore, he also takes the time to demonstrate how crippling current copyright law is to creators.

Another of the main issues addressed by the book is piracy, most specifically music piracy. This is because the book was published when the ideas of copyright law were being brought under question in regards to file-sharing of music. Lessig also addresses these issues, specifically how the Internet has changed copyright law and how the corporate industries are attempting to preserve their profits by exploiting their copyrights under the guise of protecting the artists and creators. The RIAA and MPAA abhor the idea of a public domain. Unfortunately, they have gotten so big and have so much financial backing that they are able to pressure the government with what’s best for their bottom-line.

Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it to everyone so that they can gain an understanding of the system in the US and how much it has changed for the worse over the past 100 years. Lessig’s examples perfectly illustrate the complicated situations that copyright law creates and how to understand them without a legal degree. My only minor complaint, which can’t really be attributed to Lessig, is that the law is very complicated sometimes and understanding the problems it presents can be a bit of a challenge. This makes it a book where you have to stop and think about things once or twice before you fully understand it, which may be a turn-off for some. The full contents of this book is available for free online via a Creative Commons license. However, it is a very good idea to buy it if you’d like to do more than browse.

4.5/5